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Air Duct Cleaning Q&A

November 8, 2005
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Professional cleaning technicians are learning what air-duct cleaning professionals have known for a long time: air-duct cleaning can be a lucrative service to offer the homeowner.

But just as the carpet cleaner is inundated with consumer questions about chemicals, extraction procedures, spot and stain removal, protectors and more, so is the air-duct cleaning professional on the receiving end of numerous questions from sometimes-skeptical homeowners wondering why they should pay good money to have a system in their home cleaned and maintained that, more often than not, they have never set eyes on.

Las Vegas-based Air-Care Indoor Air Quality Specialists has compiled a list of answers to some of the most common questions consumers ask when it comes to air-duct cleaning. As in all facets of the cleaning and restoration industry, providing the right information is a giant step toward turning potential clients into loyal clients.

Why should air ducts be cleaned?
Studies have shown that indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outside air. Most disposable filters remove about 10 percent of these pollutants allowing 90 percent to enter the air system, even during the construction of a new home. The pollutants contain dust, pollen, mold spores, animal dander and much more. These materials collect in the furnace, air conditioner and duct surfaces, just as they do on the furniture and floor surfaces. The furniture and floor are cleaned regularly but the duct surfaces are hidden from view and can only be reached by specialized duct cleaning equipment. These pollutants can migrate out into the room again, or become a food source for mold and bacteria, which can thrive in this dark comfortable environment from high humidity or moisture from the air conditioner or humidifiers. Biological growth can release mold spores or toxins into the air system.

How can mold grow in a duct system, and what problems can it cause?
Mold spores require a stable temperature, a food source and moisture to live and reproduce. Dust and dirt that go through the filter are a good food source. The furnace/air conditioner is designed to maintain a comfortable temperature, and moisture is available from humid conditions in the environment, the humidifier in the furnace or the cooling coils in an air conditioner. Live molds can release spores that will trigger allergic or asthmatic reactions, sometimes severe, in about 10 percent of the population. Mold, both living and dead, can produce toxins that may cause short-term allergic reactions. Long-term exposures to low levels of some mold toxins can result in permanent chemical sensitivity to common compounds in the environment.

Will a dirty air system result in higher energy costs?
Depending on the amount of contamination and its location, energy consumption could be increased. If the fan blades, evaporator coil or other control components of the system are heavily contaminated, the system may have to run much longer to cool or heat the occupied space, wasting a lot of energy.

Which parts of the air system should be cleaned?
There are three major parts to an air system: the supply and return grills; the interior surfaces of the supply and return vents; and the furnace/air conditioner air handler. All three components must be cleaned. If only one or two of the components are cleaned, contaminates from the third component will rapidly contaminate those that were cleaned.

How often should I have my air ducts cleaned?
Once an air system is thoroughly cleaned, it should remain clean for 3 to 7 years if properly maintained and a high-arrestance filter is installed. A standard disposable filter only stops about 10 percent of the airborne contaminates, allowing 90 percent of the dust in the room to flow back into the air system. To maintain protection against biological growth, an EPA-registered biocide should be applied every six to 12 months by a qualified duct-cleaning professional.

What are the sources of air-duct contamination?
All inside air was once outside air, so all of the dust, chemicals, pollen, insects and mold spores in the outside air can be pulled into the air system. People shed millions of tiny dead skin cells every hour. Cooking smoke, household insect sprays, personal care products are also a source of pollutants. Many construction materials, carpets, wood products and plastics give off pollutants as well. During construction or remodeling activities, many types of dust are produced and find their way into the duct work. If the duct components were stored outside prior to construction, they may have collected dust, rainwater and even mold before they were installed in a system.

What does it cost to have a whole air system cleaned?
This can depend on a lot of factors, such as the size of the home, the number of supply ducts, how long since the ducts were cleaned, etc. The whole system should be cleaned and a more efficient filter installed to keep the system clean longer. A competent duct-cleaning company would not be able to do this for less than $200 for a small home or $800 for a large home.

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